People of the Parks: Prison Staff
Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, MCPherson/Weed Family Alcatraz Papers, GOGA 35178
From 1934 to 1963, the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary housed some of the most notorious and hardened criminals in America. Many people are unaware of the other residents on the island: Federal Prison staff and their families, including children of all ages. As many as seventy families lived on the island at a time.
Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Henry Family AlcatrazPapers, GOGA 40023
Harold L. Henry, Correctional Officer on Alcatraz from the late 1930s until his death in 1961, lived with his wife, Irene, and their two children in an apartment in 64 Building near the dock. Irene Henry described Alcatraz as a "wonderful place for our children to play, without the hazards of traffic, [and] of the city." Children rode the boat into San Francisco to attend school. She noted that "possibly, we are closer to our children, because our men work such odd hours, or are in such danger when they work, that women and children are glad to show their pleasure and gladness at having their husbands and fathers home safely."
Montrose R. "Mac" McPherson, Correctional Officer on Alcatraz from 1942 to 1960, lived on the island with his wife, Mary, and step-daughter, Phyllis. The McPherson family first lived in 64 Building, and then moved to 'A' Building when Phyllis turned 18, where they paid $15 a month in rent and had a view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Mary was the Assistant Postmaster on the island.
Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, McPherson Weed Family Alcatraz Papers, GOGA 35178
The children's view of life on the island was drastically different than that of the men confined behind bars. Phyllis McPherson noted that when she told people her address was Alcatraz they often asked, "Is there any place you can see over the wall?" She would simply reply, "What wall?"